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Nobel Prize–winning scientist to lecture at St. Olaf

KobilkaBrian300x350Stanford University Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology Brian Kobilka, who won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, will deliver two lectures at St. Olaf College October 21.

The first, Structural Insights Into G-Protein-Coupled Receptor Signaling, will begin at 3 p.m. The second, G-Protein-Coupled Receptors: Challenges in Drug Discovery, will begin at 7 p.m. Both talks will be held in Tomson Hall 280 and are free and open to the public.

Kobilka’s visit is organized by the St. Olaf Chemistry Department, which received a Jean Dreyfus Boissevain Lectureship award to support the event. The award, administered by the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, provides funding to bring a leading researcher to a primarily undergraduate institution to give a series of lectures in the chemical sciences. It also supports two undergraduate students in summer research.

Kobilka and Robert Lefkowitz won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their research on G-protein-coupled receptors.

“For a long time, it remained a mystery how cells could sense their environment,” notes the announcement of the award. “Scientists knew that hormones such as adrenalin had powerful effects: increasing blood pressure and making the heart beat faster. They suspected that cell surfaces contained some kind of recipient for hormones. But what these receptors actually consisted of and how they worked remained obscured for most of the 20th Century.”

The work of Kobilka and Lefkowitz changed that, notes the Nobel Prize site:

“In order to track these receptors, in 1968 Robert Lefkowitz attached a radioactive isotope of the element iodine to different hormones. By tracking the radiation emitted by the isotope, he succeeded in finding a receptor for adrenaline, which allowed him to build an understanding of how it functions. In the 1980s, Brian Kobilka successfully identified the gene that regulates the formation of this receptor. The two researchers also discovered that the receptor was similar to receptors located in the eye that capture light. It was later discovered that there is an entire family of receptors that look and act in similar ways — known as G-protein-coupled receptors. Approximately half of all medications used today make use of this kind of receptor.”

A native of Little Falls, Minnesota, Kobilka earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology from the University of Minnesota Duluth and an M.D. from the Yale University School of Medicine. He was named a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2011.